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    Governor Paints Grim Outlook in State Address as SUNY Deals With More Budget Cuts

    The economy was the main focus of Gov. David Paterson’s first “State of the State” address as both the country and the state of New York face troublesome times.

    “The state of our state is perilous,” Paterson said. “New York faces a historic economic challenge, the gravest in nearly a century.”

    Paterson said that the extent of what is to come is still unclear but “we in government need the courage to balance our budget as well as out priorities.”

    Focal points of the speech included health care, for which the governor will propose a bill that would allow families to keep their children on health care until the age of 29 at their own cost. Under this plan parents would be able to claim dependents that are full-time students up until the age of 29.

    Along with health care coverage, Paterson expressed his interest in a bill that would form the New York State Higher Education Loan Program. “[The program] will provide more then $350 million in affordable loans to students who meet educational standards,” Paterson said.

    Of the many topics Gov. Paterson covered in his first State of the State address, the current cuts to the State University of New York (SUNY) system were not included.

    Since before the fall semester, significant cuts have been made to SUNY. At first SUNY’s budget was cut by $210 million, followed by yet another cut of $65 million.

    Moreover, according to a report recently released by the Fiscal Policy Institute, the SUNY system does not receive enough state aid. This is more crucial now because of the rise in the number of students both enrolling and being accepted to state colleges.

    Since the 1991-1992 school year, state aid has dropped five percent at four-year SUNY colleges, while also declining by 14 percent at SUNY community colleges.

    The $65 million cut has more recently risen to $140 million. These cuts have been offset by the recent tuition increase by $75 million.

    “The picture is not real bright,” Dan Melucci, associate vice president for strategy, planning and analysis said. “It’s hard to be optimistic.”

    The cuts have pushed both the SUNY Board of Trustees and the Stony Brook University administration to take action.

    In the fall, University President Shirley Strum Kenny enacted a hiring freeze so the campus would not have to lay off many staff and so overall payroll would not decline. The freeze was lifted in December.

    “Everybody is struggling to meet reduced budgets,” said Melucci. If a vacancy opens in a department, the department needs to get the position approved before it can be filled.

    In December, to help ease the budget, the SUNY Board of Trustees agreed to raise tuition with in-state undergraduate tuition from $4,350 to $4,970, starting with a $310 rise in the spring and another $310 for the fall 2009. Out-of-state undergraduates’ tuition was set at $13,620, increasing from $10,610.

    “We are worried about the tuition increase because of the effect on students,” Melucci said, who personally favors a rational tuition policy, which would have modest percentage increases over time.

    This concept has been on the table for a long time and has come up every budget year for the last five years. According to Melucci, however, he does not see this plan succeeding.

    Currently Stony Brook’s budget woes have not had a major effect on the academic sector.

    “We have to stand by our position of doing everything we can to protect the academic sector,” said Mr. Melucci. “We don’t want to make it more difficult to graduate.”

    So far no major cuts have been made to academics besides a very few courses that had low enrollment being dropped.

    “As soon as you start cutting full-time faculty, which means you can’t bring in as many students, which means you don’t bring in as much tuition and can’t get as much tax money and all of a sudden you are going on a downward spiral,” Melucci said. “We are intent on not having that happen and are looking at generating revenues through some other programs and will have some success there.”

    As President Barack Obama said in his inauguration address, the nation is in trouble and SUNY is, as well.

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